Emergencies

Wildfires

Since 2007, Direct Relief has responded to multiple wildfires over the years in the Western U.S., including California, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Oregon, and Texas, as well as globally. In California in 2008 during the Gap Fire, and again in late 2017 with the Thomas Fire, Direct Relief staff were also challenged by a set of emergency situations on its own doorstep. The Thomas Fire and resulting Montecito Mudslide claimed lives and destroyed thousands of homes, businesses. Direct Relief has continued to respond to these situations, which have affected people across thousands of acres of land, with requested aid and financial support.

Southern California wildfires raced through San Diego in 2007, and Direct Relief bolstered local healthcare providers and first responders with medical aid. (Brett Williams/Direct Relief)
Southern California wildfires raced through San Diego in 2007, and Direct Relief bolstered local healthcare providers and first responders with medical aid. (Brett Williams/Direct Relief)

You Can Only Do in Emergencies What You Do Every Day

As in other disaster scenarios, those affected by wildfires face a difficult set of tasks in moving from acute emergency response to recovery to rebuilding, often facing significant obstacles in the process. Wildfires can be incredibly difficult to contain, leaving nearby residents’ air quality diminished by heavy smoke and ash for days on end. Wildfires can quickly change direction, leaving those nearby with little time to evacuate. As some in Chile said after the 2014 wildfires there, wildfires can be one of the more difficult disasters to recover from, because they destroy so much so quickly. Direct Relief has worked closely with a number of local community groups, nongovernmental organizations, and corporate partners to address community needs during wildfires and resulting mudslides.

Medicines and respiratory supplies arrive at Clinicas del Camino Real Health Center in Camarillo, California, during wildfires in 2017. (Lara Cooper/Direct Relief)
Medicines and respiratory supplies arrive at Clinicas del Camino Real Health Center in Camarillo, California, during wildfires in 2017. (Lara Cooper/Direct Relief)

With increased frequency of wildfires in recent years, Direct Relief has led regular response efforts in California and beyond, often collaborating with partner organizations, such as the California Primary Care Association and the Community Clinic Association of Los Angeles County. Direct Relief has led relief efforts for wildfires every year since 2007.

Direct Relief staff distribute breathing masks in Carpinteria, California, in Dec. 2017 during the Thomas Fire. (Lara Cooper/Direct Relief)
Direct Relief staff distribute breathing masks in Carpinteria, California, in Dec. 2017 during the Thomas Fire. (Lara Cooper/Direct Relief)

Equipping Hospitals and First Responders

During the Gap Fire, and again during subsequent efforts addressing situations including the Tea Fire, the Sayre Fire, the Jesusita Fire, the Thomas Fire, and many others, Direct Relief has worked closely with local health officials such as the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department to assess healthcare needs and distribute thousands of N-95 respirators to 60-plus community organizations.

Santa Barbara County Public Health's Ashlea Coski demonstrates protective gear provided for the public. Direct Relief distributed protective coveralls, googles, gloves and masks to those returning to homes after the Jan. 9 deadly mudslide. Sheriff's deputies were escorting some residents back to their homes for a limited amount of time to collect items and begin clean-up. (Lara Cooper/Direct Relief)
Santa Barbara County Public Health’s Ashlea Coski demonstrates protective gear provided for the public. Direct Relief distributed protective coveralls, googles, gloves and masks to those returning to homes after the Jan. 9 deadly mudslide in Montecito, California. Sheriff’s deputies were escorting some residents back to their homes for a limited amount of time to collect items and begin clean-up. (Lara Cooper/Direct Relief)

The organization also worked closely with clinics in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties, including the Santa Barbara Neighborhood Clinics and Clinicas del Camino Real in Oxnard, to provide inhalers and other respiratory medications. People with asthma and other respiratory conditions face the greatest health risks from airborne particulate matter during wildfires. Masks and medication can make a significant difference for those affected.

When a forest fire spread through Valparaíso, Chile, in April 2014, Direct Relief was able to ship requested medical supplies to Fundación FEDES, a Chilean nongovernmental organization that helps vulnerable people in communities across the country. Supplies provided included first-aid materials, such as wound dressings from Covidien/Medtronic Minimally Invasive Products; orthopedic supplies such as crutches, canes, and walkers; personal care supplies donated by the Johnson & Johnson Family of Consumer Companies and The Soap Guy; nutritional products from Abbott; and other medical aid items.

After the January 9, 2018, Montecito Mudslide, Direct Relief purchased specifically requested off-road vehicles and emergency gear, which were deployed immediately by Montecito Fire Protection District, Santa Barbara County Fire Department’s Urban Search and Rescue Team, Santa Barbara City Fire Department, and the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Search & Rescue. Direct Relief additionally provided the Tdap vaccine to first responders, cleanup workers, and residents in affected areas, with its stockpile of other vaccines and medical essentials made available for any further needs.

Search and Rescue Crews Drive Through Montecito on a Ruggedized Utility Vehicle Donated by Direct Relief (Photo courtesy of Santa Barbara Fire).
Search and Rescue crews drive through Montecito in a ruggedized utility vehicle donated by Direct Relief. (Photo courtesy of Santa Barbara County Fire)

Establishing New Partnerships and Building for the Future

In responding to the Montecito Mudslide, as in previous wildfire responses, Direct Relief provided $20,000 grants to several fire protection districts and police departments to purchase additional emergency gear, including dry suits, headlamps, harnesses and cables, and helmets. A specially equipped off-road truck and trailer were also purchased to allow the Montecito Fire Protection District a way to transport the new off-road vehicles. Goggles, masks, and 3M protective suits were provided to community groups, Santa Barbara County agencies, residents in need, and Habitat for Humanity, which organized volunteer crews for cleanup efforts. Direct Relief also funded the Santa Barbara Bucket Brigade, which brought together hundreds of volunteers to assist homeowners with mud removal and cleanup work.

Additionally, Direct Relief committed an initial $100,000 to CAUSE, a Ventura County-based organization that works to support undocumented residents. Those experiencing economic losses due to work closures and other impacts were encouraged to apply to the fund. Direct Relief also established a 1/9 Victims Fund for those impacted by the Montecito Mudslide, with an initial $500,000 to support families of people who lost their lives, people who sustained injuries, and individuals who experienced property loss but did not qualify for the other two classes. Similar funds have been made available to those affected by other wildfires.

Staff at the Westside location of the  Santa Barbara Neighborhood Clinics unpack Direct Relief-donated vaccines on Jan. 16, 2018. The vaccines will be administered to people who have been exposed to floodwaters or debris from the Montecito mudslide. Tetanus can be transmitted from contaminated soil into the body through a wound, and the risk for the disease increases during exposure to disaster areas. (Lara Cooper/Direct Relief)
Santa Barbara Neighborhood Clinics unpack Direct Relief-donated tetanus vaccines on Jan. 16, 2018. The vaccines were administered to people who had been exposed to floodwaters or debris from the Montecito mudslide. Tetanus can be transmitted from contaminated soil into the body through a wound, and the risk for the disease increases during exposure to disaster areas. (Lara Cooper/Direct Relief)

Leveraging Corporate and Charitable Support

When the Jesusita Fire was at its height in May 2009, Direct Relief partnered with UC Santa Barbara to set up an alternate care shelter at the university’s events center. Direct Relief deployed staff, volunteers, equipment, and supplies to rapidly set up this temporary location to receive up to 100 medically vulnerable people during evacuations due to the wildfire.  

That month, Direct Relief also completed a 2-year, $500,000 project, underwritten by the Orfalea Fund, to install a 250-kilowatt generator at Direct Relief’s facility. The diesel-powered generator, would ensure the organization could function independently of the power grid in emergency scenarios such as wildfires, mudslides, and other disasters, supplying power for up to 6 days without fuel resupply, or indefinitely with resupply.

Direct Relief continues to coordinate with corporate and non-governmental organizations to ensure needed supplies are available when wildfires strike. The organization is committed to ongoing relief efforts in these situations, with the help of generous contributions from the public and corporate sources.

Active Emergency Responses

Direct Relief staff load critical medicines and supplies on to a helicopter in San Juan on Dec. 18, 2017. The medicines went to Health ProMed Health Center on the island of Vieques, which was hard-hit by Hurricane Maria. (Photo by Donnie Hedden for Direct Relief)

Hurricanes

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